Archive for the ‘Re-Thinking Mission Work’ Category

In 1969, four young American couples committed to go to Germany to do full-time mission work. Why did they choose Germany? I know because I was part of the team.

We chose Germany because a professor at Harding invited us to accompany him on a trip to Europe during Christmas vacation, so that we could visit with European missionaries from various countries. We visited personally with workers from Italy, Switzerland, West Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands, all of whom made some effort to recruit us to their field.

That entire year on campus at Harding, we had been visiting with every missionary from every country that came to campus. By February it was time to make a decision. We had statistics and interviews enough. Of course we prayed for wisdom, but in the rearview mirror of forty years, I think we decided on Germany because we just wanted to go there!  My great-grandfather came from Germany and another team member had been stationed with his parents in the Air Force in Germany. Our three-day visit in Germany convinced us of what we already wanted to do!

I wonder how many missionaries have chosen their fields as haphazardly as we did?

Even though today’s missionaries are better prepared, my experience is that most are still guided by inspiration rather than any kind of strategic thinking about how to fulfill the Great Commission! 

And congregations are no different. Occasionally a congregation will select a field and then search for the right workers, but usually a potential missionary appears on their doorstep first. If the congregation likes the worker, then the field is of somewhat secondary importance.

How do we as a fellowship expect to ever go into all the world without a plan? How will we go to the Muslim world? Who is going to the countries in Africa that most Americans have never heard of? Who is going to Scandinavia or to the outposts of Russia? What are we going to do about Tokyo with 33 million people?  Osaka (16.4million)? Jakarta, Indonesia (14.2 million)? Cairo (12.2 million)?  What is our plan? Where is the inspiration for the really tough fields??

To make a strategic plan, we as a fellowship need different criteria for site selection!  If we have used any criteria, it has tended to be either receptivity or bang for the buck (I cringe to even write that!) We need a new criteria for what makes a site important to God! 

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” James 1:5. I believe God has given us a great deal of revelation to permit us to be wiser, but we have not gathered it together into a coherent picture.  We need centralized information will inspire us to see new opportunities. Fortunately, we already have a wonderful organization in our fellowship whose mandate is to be a network for missions resources, ala Missions Resource NetworkMy vote is that this wonderful ministry continue to be and expand its role as a repository for the information churches and missionaries need to strategically select mission sites.

Here’s the picture I’m seeing:

We need a Wikipedia-like site for mission information, preferably one where every country of the world is listed and where our fellowship can share our combined knowledge and experience publically.  This would be a place where the people who love geography could describe the country of Burkina Faso and the handful of people who have done mission work in Denmark can relate the history that only they know. Current workers in Osaka, Japan, could describe the religious climate and what they are doing there, so that the rest of our fellowship can see that Osaka could use a hundred missionaries, not one or two!

Then we need to publish/create some lists of ranked priorities to inspire and captivate congregations and workers looking for a mission field. What if all our churches were made acutely aware of even just the following lists—many of which are already available:

1.            Countries most restricted to Christians

2.            Muslim countries most open to Christians

3.            Countries with the fewest Christians per capita

4.            Countries where no known churches of Christ are meeting

5.            English-speaking countries with the fewest Christians

6.            Countries with the greatest response to Christian broadcasting

7.            Richest/poorest countries with the fewest Christians

8.            Countries with greatest internet access and the fewest Christians

Can you see congregations and potential missionaries using such lists for inspiration—using these lists to pray over, listening for guidance!  Then they get a complete picture of the countries they are drawn towards until God makes clear to them the country/city/continent they should commit to.

I also think it would be good to hold a national conference for all living American missionaries with the goal of producing a list of mission priorities for which American missionaries would be especially appropriate—acknowledging that Christians of other nations are better suited for some parts of the world than Americans–and the list of those places may be growing!

Possible Results

So if we had both congregations seeking mission opportunities for all of those members that they have inspired, as well as members of congregations, inspired by and re-inspiring their congregations, going to such a repository of both information and inspiration, is it possible that the body as a whole would begin to think more strategically?

Is it possible that two congregations, one in Connecticut and one in California  who are both wanting to work in Turkistan might discover each other, then talk to each other, certainly develop a relationship and perhaps even work out a cooperative plan—which might inspire other congregations who then join them in that work!

Is it possible that congregations would check the site information and see that 250 congregations are considering summer mission works in Honduras, so maybe they would choose a different country?

Is it possible that some congregation would learn that the Muslim country of Senegal is very open and that one African brother has started five congregations there in the last eight years—and they might start exploring ways to help him?

Is it possible that congregations would use their businessmen who travel abroad as scouts for new mission opportunities?

If our churches were prayerfully but strategically inspiring their members to go literally, purposefully, into all the world, then finally we would have begun to get a hint of what it means to fulfill the Great Commission!

And, by the way, our team’s decision to go to Germany was Spirit-led! We had a blessed work, and we loved Germany and the German people. Never doubt that God uses us in our weakness and ignorance!

I want to explore next the first decisions about the type of work and then follow that with thoughts on preparation.

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Sherrylee and I are leaving Seattle tomorrow for Malibu and the Pepperdine Bible Lectures. PBL is the last great Christian college lectureship among Churches of Christ. The main force  behind the lectureship for almost three decades has been the director Dr. Jerry Rushford. This is his last lectureship; he has passed the baton to Mike Cope and Rick Gibson, who assume the responsibility for the future of PBL.

I think they will do a great job, but maintaining the quality while updating the format is a daunting challenge. As great leaders should, they have already begun asking and receiving input from a broad spectrum of people who have vested interest in the welfare of the lectures. 

I pray they do well. We need this forum for our conversations.

Dr. Dan Rodriguez

On Wednesday, we will be discussing the current state of missions among Churches of Christ, and on Thursday, we will go forward to what Churches of Christ need to do to have effective mission efforts in the next fifty years.  I think it will be an exhilarating conversation with these men who are passionate and informed about missions.

Dr. Dan Bouchelle

I hope to provide at least a summary of the two classes on Wednesday and Thursday for you to read—perhaps even an audio file for you to be able to listen, but today I thought I would give you a copy of the handout I will use on Wednesday.  You’ll recognize it as a summary of the blog series I did on “Re-Thinking Mission Work.”  If you want more explanation and detail to flesh out these thoughts, you can find that series in the side panel.

Even if you can’t come to the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, I hope you can enjoy a portion of it vicariously through these next posts. 

Overview of ”Re-thinking Mission Work in Churches of Christ”

By Mark Woodward

The current model for sending, supporting, and overseeing missionaries from Churches of Christ needs to be re-thought for the following reasons:

  1. The selection process is mostly self-selection with only minimal help from experienced missionaries or those who have skills or information that could guide the selection process.
  2. The choice of mission sites too often is an uncoordinated, non-strategic choice with little input from experienced or engaged persons.
  3. The preparation for mission work, if any, is not readily available for most people who would like to become missionaries.
  4. The support gathering system among Churches of Christ not only discourages the vast majority of potential missionaries from even beginning, but also most of those who do attempt to work their way through it.
  5. The “sponsoring church” system neglects spiritual oversight, is occasionally about strategic oversight, and mostly about financial oversight.
  6. The role of either elders or general mission committees to oversee missionaries/mission churches puts the decisions about mission work too often into the hands of well-intentioned people who have little or no personal experience in missions, and little or only secondhand primary information about how to do missions.
  7. The relationship between the missionary and his/her overseers is generally an employer/employee relationship with financial arrangements being the most important control mechanism.

Some of the changes that I would like to suggest that Churches of Christ implement in order to change our paradigm for missions.

  1. Mission committees should be restructured to have as their sole responsibility, implementation of strategies for raising up and surfacing  missionaries from their congregation.
  2. Hopeful missionaries should be expected to seek experienced and skilled help, either inside or outside of their home congregation, for making all of their First Decisions (Should I be a missionary? Where should I go? Who should I go with? How should I prepare?)
  3. Primary oversight of a missionary should be in the hands of Christians who know the person intimately and care about the proposed work, who likely are even personally involved.
  4. Every Missionary Hopeful should be expected to spend two years in an apprenticeship on the field with a Master Missionary before they are supported to work independently.
  5. Financial support and oversight control need to have more separation, so that both are in the hands of Christians who love the missionary and care about the work.

You can read the expanded blog articles on “Re-Thinking Mission Work” at www.markwoodward.org.

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Paradigm shifts are always resisted! I want to address today some of the resisting comments that have been posted about Re-Thinking Mission Work!

I said that our system is broken because we require our missionaries to first be good fund-raisers. Some argued that the skill set for fund raising is similar to that of a good missionary, so it is a legitimate filter.  If they can’t raise money, how could they be a good missionary?

No doubt, good people skills are a prerequisite for both raising funds and missions. Other broad skills like perseverance and the ability to communicate would certainly fit both tasks, so this argument is not farfetched. However, here’s a short list of skills necessary for a good missionary that are not necessary to be a good fund-raiser:

  • Prayerful
  • A thoughtful student of the Word
  • An effective teacher of the Word
  •  A vision-caster
  • A team builder
  • Cross-culturally sensitive
  • A lover of language—often, the ability to learn a new language.
  • A lover of people, not just a manipulator of people
  • Extreme faith and trust in an all-powerful God

I said that we need greater access to better pre-mission training for more people!  Several suggested that our Christian colleges offer plenty of good preparation.

They are right about the quality of training that our Christian universities offer. It is excellent! But access is the real issue.  The general mission preparation is designed for 18-21 year old, full-time students working toward a bachelor’s degree.

  • What about the 90% of young people in churches of Christ who do not attend a Christian college?
  • What about the young professionals who are called to the mission after graduation?
  • What about families—Dad, Mom, and kids—who are called to the mission?
  • What about those who can commit only two years? Is it reasonable to ask them to prepare four years for two of service?
  • What about early retirees and mature Christians?  How will they be trained?

I know about summer seminars, but how many short courses would it take to prepare a novice missionary?

I am happy to report that the idea of required apprenticeships resonated with many of you! It is an idea that I will try to flesh out more in a future posting!

Several readers pointed out the benefits of supporting national workers instead of Americans.  I’m a firm believer that American missionaries should all be temporary and that training nationals to reach their own people—and to send their own missionaries—should be given high priority.  I am strongly opposed—with rare exceptions—to putting national evangelists on American church support.  The problems created by supporting nationals are immense!  Sending money is not a substitute for Going!

I have not called for any kind of centralized organization, but some of you who commented did! Several suggested that the historic stand against missionary societies was never well grounded.  I believe that we can achieve our goal of better mission work done by more missionaries without a centralized bureaucracy—but not with cooperation.  I doubt that we Americans can create a centralized organization that would not succumb to wielding big financial, political, or personal bludgeons, so that’s not the direction I would like to see us go, even if we could get beyond the doctrinal issues.

Look around! The Mormons have over fifty thousand unpaid, full-time missionaries!  All of their missionaries go through several weeks of training at one of the seventeen Mission Training Centers, located throughout the world! Mormonism—which began in the U.S. about the same time as the American Restoration Movement– continues to be a growing world-wide movement with over 14 million members!

What other models for supporting and overseeing mission work are you aware of? Can the current model among churches of Christ  be improved by learning from other religious groups?

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In response to my series on Re-Thinking Mission Work, I have heard from a number of current missionaries who felt like I was touching on their story somehow.  This last week, I received an especially moving letter from a couple whose story is just so familiar that I asked them if I could reproduce it while protecting their privacy.

With their permission, I want to share this letter with you, not to condone every decision, every comment, or every emotion, but so that you can get a glimpse into the frustration that our current system creates and what it does to many of the people who try to work their way through it to the mission field.  You won’t enjoy this letter, but try to put yourself in the position of this couple and see what you think!

Dear Mark,

I hope you really meant it when you wrote that you wanted to know more about our experiences, because here goes. Our first full-time missions experience was in the Czech Republic. Our sponsoring church at that time was the  X Church of Christ in Texas. We had been members there for 2 years and were on a team prepared by [Missions organization]. My wife and I have teaching degrees from [Christian college]. The team we joined spent about 4 months at [missions organization] preparing together. The [sponsoring] church made a 5 year agreement with us and provided half of our support. The rest came from various other individuals and churches. We worked in the Czech Republic for 5 years and helped to establish a small congregation that still meets today without the presence of missionaries. During that time, the [sponsoring] church never once sent anyone to visit us and at the end of the 5 years they were done.

We reluctantly came home and resumed teaching . . . . We cried through every worship service for 6 months, but the Christians at the Church of Christ were really great and very understanding. We moved the next year to [city] so that I could resume my secular career and so that our children could attend a christian school.

After 2 years, we felt called to return to missions. We had become aware of the need for the gospel in Slovenia during our last year in [Czech Republic]. We spent a year preparing at [Christian college] and looking for teammates. This time, the church in [small city] made a 3 year agreement to sponsor us. They had been one of our contributors while we were in [Czech Republic]. We had become close to one of the missions committee members during that time. When we returned, he told us that when we were ready to go back (because he knew we would) to contact him and so we did. [This church] had never been a sponsoring church before, but they wanted to give it a try. They provided half our support. We never found teammates, but went to Slovenia anyway.

During our 2nd year in Slovenia, the dollar tanked against the euro and we began to struggle. We went into debt so that we could continue to do the work there. During the 3rd year, we began working with a small group of Christians from a former International Church of Christ. This was, of course, after [the decentralization took place]. They were eager to have someone to help strengthen them after all that had happened. We also meet ICOC Christians from Croatia, Hungary, and Bosnia during this time. [Our friend] was the only person from [our sponsoring church] to come and visit us during the 3 years we were there. He and his wife came for one night while they were visiting their son who was doing a study abroad program in Europe.

At the end of 3 years, there was a new missions committee head at the [Sponsoring] Church who decided it was fiscally irresponsible to continue being a sponsoring church. We were preparing to come home again when an opportunity to become self supporting missionaries came up. We took jobs with [international schools] and moved to Bosnia. We knew that there were Christians here and were eager to help them. We worked there for a year and a half and decided to return to Texas to resume our teaching careers and build up some retirement.

After 3 years back, we met a young couple looking for teammates to go to the Czech Republic. We felt like God was once again presenting us with an opportunity to serve the Czech people, so we once again began looking for a sponsoring congregation.

During the past year, we have been turned down for the following reasons:

  • we are too small to take on a responsibility like that– our current congregation;
  • we just had to take on more support for the missionaries we already have, and we prefer to support missions that our members can go to on mission trips;
  • we feel that our congregation will get more excited about a mission to Africa;
  • we feel it is more fiscally responsible to support the X Bible Institute (more bang for the buck).

It’s the last one that hurts us the most. If you look on their website, you’ll see that they have 3 missions listed: Christian Service Center- benevolence, not missions; a work in [foreign city] which we were told they are phasing out; and the X Bible Institute- preacher training, not evangelism or church planting. Not only that, but when I was there, they announced that in addition to the 4 ministers they already have, they are hiring 2 more, a communications minister and a family life minister.

I was so hurt that I wrote an email to [our contact person] and asked him to forward it to the elders but have received no reply. My family has been associated with this church for more than 30 years. They used to be known as a sending church. So, here we sit in a hotel room [in a small US city], waiting to be interviewed and try out for a preaching job.

So sorry, people of the Czech Republic. Be warmed and filled, the churches in the US would like to do more, but you are not high on their list of priorities. Can you tell that we are discouraged and frustrated? Some have said that it must not be God’s will that we go. Maybe, but what if God calls these churches into account one day for not reaching the Czech people. They may say to Him, “when did you tell us to go to the Czech people?” and He will say, “I sent you [this couple], but you ignored them.” It is our hope and prayer that someone will pay attention to you [people of Czech Republic] so that others that go after us will have more success and the gospel will reach even those places in the world that are difficult and unexciting.

I hope this letter is a small window into the experience of trying to become, to be, and to remain a missionary in our current system. MW

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Let’s Start Talking approaches churches on almost a daily basis, asking for a few minutes at one of their assemblies to present to that church’s members opportunities  to be involved in short-term missions.  We do not ask for money, we do not ask for any long-term commitments, nor do we ask for anything that would detract from that church’s current mission efforts.   We do not need the sermon time. Class time, time before or after a service, even Wednesday night would be wonderful!

Why is it so hard to get an opportunity to tell the Body of Christ about specific requests from mission churches who are asking for help in telling the story of Jesus to their neighbors?

One of the most common reasons we hear when churches say that now is not a good time is that their mission work/mission committee is not functioning or is in disarray and they don’t know what they are doing, so let them get their act together and they will get back to LST.  I can’t remember when we have ever been called back at a later date by a church that had pulled themselves together.

In the previous post, we talked about questions that a strong church with a good mission program—at least in their own eyes—might ask in order to be sure they were not deceiving themselves, being satisfied with a mediocre mission effort when they desire and are capable of a great mission effort.

Now I’d like to talk with those church leaders/members in smaller churches, with either no real mission program or one in disarray as described above!  Let’s ask some hard questions and see where the answers lead us!

1.       Why is your church small?  Myriad reasons come to mind as to why a church might be small, some perfectly healthy and other reasons very unhealthy.  Some healthier reasons might include being a new church plant, being in an unchurched area where growth is slow. Unhealthy reasons might include because you are the only right ones, or you like to do things one way—your way.  I do challenge you to list ten reasons why your congregation is small—then evaluate those reasons for health.

2.      How are you trying to grow?  And holding Sunday services does not count.

3.       To what part of the Great Commission are you devoting your available resources?  Sherrylee and I met with a church recently in a resort area that often has no more than five members present, yet they rent a church building for Sundays and pray mostly for Christian tourists to attend. After the service the 4-5 members all went out to eat together, without inviting any of us guests to go with them.  Does this picture feel wrong to you?

4.       What could you do that would increase your “strength”? Could you merge with another church? I was in a small Texas town of about 1500 people recently that had four churches of Christ listed in the phone book. I believe we went to the largest with a membership of about 150. I wonder how long it has been since anyone made overtures about merging with any of the other congregations?   My only solace was that the Baptist had 17 churches in the same phonebook.  Human frailty is not denominational.

5.       What opportunities do you have because you are small that a large church might not have? What if the whole church supported that one young person or the just-retired couple to prepare for missions!  You don’t have anyone?—then why don’t you adopt a new Christian who has a strong desire to serve abroad, but no church home.  Find them through one of the Christian university mission departments.

I’ve worshipped in many small churches all over the world.  Small is not the same as weak.  The fact that eighty percent of American churches of Christ have fewer than a hundred members is often quoted as an excuse, but I keep hearing the words of the Messenger to the little church in Asia Minor, which he described as having just a “little strength.”  To this church he says, “I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut!” (Revelation 3:8)

Rethinking your mission efforts may start—for large or for small churches—with rethinking who you are and why you exist at all.  I do believe that when you know why it is worth all the time and effort to be church together, you will have a much better perspective for pursuing the mission of every church!


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In my series on Rethinking Mission Work , I tried to take a few steps back and ask, “Are we as a fellowship really doing missions the best we can?”.  Based purely on my personal experiences with many churches and on anecdotal evidences, what I see is

  • General dissatisfaction among congregations with their experiences in supporting foreign missions.
  • Broad dissatisfaction among American missionaries with their experiences with supporting churches.
  • Trend toward replacing evangelistic work with humanitarian aid as the definition of mission work.
  • Greater emphasis on local evangelism as opposed to foreign evangelism.

Thinking is hard enough, but re-thinking borders on the impossible.  I know this because I taught Freshman Composition at Oklahoma Christian for twenty-four years.  Once a student  forces himself to sit down, to gather some ideas from somewhere on some topic, to write at least five paragraphs that in his/her mind relate to  a single topic, and then to check it for spelling—once a student has done that much work, she is finished! That’s it! What more could be required??  That first draft is perfection!

Virtually all great writers know that the first draft is trash, maybe even the tenth! Envisioning is certainly the first step in the process, but re-visioning may be the most important!

William Faulkner said about revision, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”   To add to our difficulty in re-thinking is our tendency to make “our darlings” into “our doctrines”   We put the stamp of biblical perfection on our assignment and turn it in!!  And we expect to get excellent marks in recognition of work well done!

As I read and re-read some of your comments during the series, both on my blog site and on other sites where the series was re-posted in some form,  I was continually reminded of how difficult it is to re-vision, i.e., to re-see something so familiar to us.

Some commented that their experience at their congregation was just great and that their congregation was doing a wonderful job!

In reply, let me say that describing general conditions always leaves one open to refutation by the Exception! Of course there are congregations doing a great job and great mission committees who have schooled themselves and love their missionaries.

I will say, however, based on my classroom experience that the writer is not necessarily the best judge of whether the writing is good.  Heeding the proverb to “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips,” (27:2), I would suggest a first step in rethinking is to have an outside evaluation—especially at those churches that have our best mission programs.

If I were coming to help your church look at its mission program, here are some of the questions I would want to ask:

  1. Why do you want to be involved at all in foreign missions?
  2. Where do foreign missions rank in your congregational priorities?
  3. Do you care more about whom you send or where you send them?
  4. What is “non-negotiable” or “untouchable” in your mission program?
  5. What is determining the full capacity of your mission efforts? Available workers? Available funds? Available time?
  6. Does your capacity match your goal?  And is there any room for God to expand any of your capacities?
  7. How do you determine if you are meeting your goals?
  8. How many people in the congregation are involved in the mission efforts in any way, including intentional prayer, private support, short-term missions to your mission sites? Are you happy with the percentage of involvement?
  9. How many are involved in missions outside of the congregation’s program? Are you happy/concerned about this? Is it a reflection on the church’s program in any way?
  10. Do you ask for honest feedback from those you send, and are you humble enough to receive fair criticism from them without it threatening their support?
  11. How long have your current mission strategies/policies been in place?  Do you have a planned periodical review of all policies?
  12. If you could wave a magic wand and change one piece of your mission program, what would you change? What keeps you from making this change without a magic wand?


Next, I’d like to look at how to start re-thinking at churches who already know they have some serious issues in their mission program. 

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Separating money and power is the most critical action that Churches of Christ need to take to fix its broken model for mission work. That the current model is broken can be disputed, but is very difficult to refute in light of the following:

  • Too few new hopeful missionaries are willing to become full-time, church-supported, church-overseen missionaries.
  • Many new and current missionaries are replacing church oversight/support with funds from individuals and private foundations to sidestep the current  church/oversight model.
  • Many churches are moving to mission efforts that are more “controllable”—which means they are either exclusively short-term missions, or much closer to home where local leaders can oversee more actively, or they are some form of humanitarian aid rather than missionary-centered evangelism .

A missionary society is one way that other churches attempted to solve this problem, but it is not an acceptable solution in Churches of Christ.  In fact, another center of financial authority is really no solution at all, so I am not suggesting anything resembling a missionary society as a solution.

My suggestion for a new oversight/support model  is based on the following primary characteristics:

  • Division of power
  • Division of responsibility
  • Gift-oriented tasking
  • Covenanted relationships

My suggestion is a tripartite model. Two of the parties have already been described at length: the Missionary and the Co-Mission support group. (See previous blogs for those descriptions!)  These two begin and have their core identities within our congregational structure.  Because the third member of this triad has no authority and exercises no oversight, it will work better as a missionary service organization outside of local church structures.

The single task of this third entity is to serve the Missionary and the Co-Mission group by carrying out their financial instructions.  This organization would receive funds on behalf of the missionary and disperses funds to the missionary as instructed.  I can also imagine that this organization could be extraordinarily helpful to Overseers and Missionaries by offering financial information like:

  • Cost of living information resources for specific countries
  • Best practices for banking in specific countries
  • Information of health insurance
  • U.S. tax information for missionaries
  • Foreign tax information
  • Best practices for accounting/reporting for contributions to missionaries

In no way is the missionary service organization involved in oversight or raising support, so there is no authority or control issue as with a missionary society. On the contrary, because of its neutral position in this triad, it is in a great position to serve those who oversee, those who support, and the Missionary equally well.

You may be a bit surprised that I have introduced the words oversight and accountability into our conversation.  If I have not said it explicitly enough yet, let me say that I do not believe it to be biblical or wise for anyone to be without accountability in the body of Christ, not elders, not preachers, not members, and not missionaries. I believe strongly in the mutual submission prescribed by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:21, “Submit one to another out of reverence for Christ!”

What I am describing is a chord of three strands: the Missionary, the Co-Mission group, and the service organization (to be named later!) These three become accountable to each other by means of a mutually agreed upon Covenant, a Covenant which is built in stages.

Stage One of building The Covenant would be the commitments that the Hopeful Missionary makes with those he gathers into the Co-Mission group.  And each time a new person is added, they would need to prayerfully commit to joining in the Covenant. As the First Decisions are made, the Covenant changes—but not unless both parties agree! How can two walk together unless they be agreed? (Amos 3:3)

Stage Two begins when it is time to start fund raising and when the services of the missionary service organization become essential.  At that time both the Missionary and the Co-Mission group sit down with the service organization and create new descriptions of both financial commitments and service commitments. In others words, the Missionary and Co-Mission create the financial instructions to the service organization, and the service organization commits to the services it will provide and describes any financial responsibilities or tasks that either the Missionary or the Co-Mission group takes on .

The Covenant then becomes the physical description of the relationship into which these three parties have entered for the mutual benefit of all.

Perhaps in another forum, I can expand on what kinds of things should be in a Covenant, and later, I’d like to talk about the kinds of financial covenants that work best between supporters and missionaries, but for this series, I’ve said enough to get the broad parameters of a paradigm shift into the public arena for discussion.

I would like to conclude this series by suggesting a few very concrete actions in which some of you might be interested. If you will respond, then I will follow up in the future with action:

  • I would be happy to sit down with church leaders to talk about shifting their paradigm.
  • I would be happy to organize an exploratory meeting of some kind for open conversation
  • I would be happy to make an edited and expanded version of these thoughts available in print, so that they might be distributed and read by more people.

I look forward to your response—privately or publically.




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To summarize my previous posts, the primary issue I see with the way churches of Christ support and oversee missions are Selection, strategy, financing, and spiritual/physical care are all in the hands of a small group of men who have no firsthand knowledge of missions, who do not have personal relationships with the missionaries, who at best have limited exposure to mission theory, and who often have a broad palate of other responsibilities in their congregations to compete for their attention.

I must repeat: these elders, deacons, and mission committee members are good men and well-intentioned. The system, the model is what is flawed.  I would like to put some ideas out there to start a serious conversation about a new model for missionary oversight/support that would have the following characteristics:

  1.  Make relationship a greater part of the formula
  2.  Open the system so that the people who care the most about a work can be more directly involved.
  3.  Determine leadership according to gifts, not by who controls the checkbook.

Let’s suppose that , because of the inspiration received through points of contact with this church and because of participation in short-term missions sponsored by this church, this member of our church wants to become a full-time missionary and announces this to his/her fellowship circle at the church.

Because this happens often in this church and because this church is of moderate size, the church has appointed two or three people with gifts and training in what Scripture calls discernment to help this person be sure of their calling. If a congregation is small or lacks such gifted people, then they reach out to other congregations or to mission organizations that could provide this service for them.

After having worked through this phase and if both the applicant and the church still agree on the calling, then the Hopeful is asked to gather a group of spiritual supporters to walk with him/her through the First Decisions. These spiritual supporters should be prayerful people, people who already have a relationship to the Hopeful, people who are supportive of the Calling, and people who are willing to commit themselves and their gifts to the Hopeful.

Now, the task of the Hopeful as well as the entire spiritual cohort is to prayerfully make those important First Decisions: selection of field, selection of type work, developing a team (if appropriate), and making preparations by filling the gaps of knowledge, skills, and spiritual formation.  Following the advice of the Apostle James, if the group finds it lacks wisdom—or any other input needed for these important First Decisions– they should ask for it, first from God and then from people whom He has prepared with such wisdom. That list might include current and former missionaries, missions experts, people with cross-cultural experience—whomever God has gifted with experience or information that might be helpful in making these important First Decisions.

After the Hopeful and his/her Co-Walkers have prayerfully agreed upon a plan, including the path of Preparation, the financial resources to implement the Calling must be addressed.

Most probably, the cost of the Preparation itself will be the first financial question. I would assume that the later cost to finance the mission itself will be something that is learned later during the preparatory period as more information is gathered. Working to estimate and raise the cost of Preparation is probably a better first step toward the Calling than trying to start with the larger financial needs that will certainly come later.

And how should these first funds be gathered?  Those with the most invested already will likely be the first to commit financially. The Hopeful’s spiritual support group has walked this far already, has prayed intensely for the Hopeful, has invested time and gifts in the Hopeful—I can’t imagine that these people will not be interested in supporting this Hopeful financially.

And if that is not enough, then who will ask others? Who will vouch for the selection, the path for preparation? Who will be more persuasive in asking others to join them in supporting this Hopeful than his/her Co-Walkers??  And won’t this all happen rather naturally? And won’t  these requests be between friends as opposed to our current model that sends Hopefuls out alone to strangers?

Certainly the home church would be asked, but the difference is that as with individuals, so with churches, contributions do not come with an assumption of oversight. Oversight of this Hopeful is in the hands of his/her Co-Walkers. They know the person, the needs, and the plan better than anyone else in the world. They are invested spiritually, emotionally, relationally—and now financially–in this mission!

No accountability is lost in this model. The Hopeful is accountable to his/her Co-Mission group. The individuals in this group are still accountable to their elders! Perhaps not all of the Co-Mission group members even belong to the same congregation. That is not a prerequisite. It would be not only be foolish, but difficult and inappropriate for a set of elders to micromanage the group by reason of authority.

But who collects and handles the money?  Not the Hopeful!  The Co-Mission group. It volunteered for spiritual duty, not funds collection and management. If you leave it in the church coffers, the money/power problem remains! So what do you do with the money practically to avoid power issues?

That’s the next post. Stay tuned!

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All the money for missions is controlled by a very small group of men in churches of Christ.

These are all good, well-intentioned men—elders, deacons, mission committee members—but if churches of Christ have 200-300 congregations that oversee virtually all American missionaries , which typically includes managing the funds that are contributed by individuals and smaller congregations, then my best estimate is that a couple of thousand men control all of the mission work of churches of Christ.

Is this good?

Typically, most congregations have a small mission committee that receives requests, selects which works to support, determines the amount that they want to request, and passes that request on to the elders—an even smaller group, further removed from the request—who make the final decision.  Some churches do use variations on this standard approach.

I know of one large, outstanding congregation which has a long history of generous support for missions, a great track record in every way, where the entire mission program and the dispersal of all the mission funds is completely the decision of one brother.  Another one of our exemplary, mission-minded congregations has a model where small sub-committees funnel all financial requests for missions up to a small group of deacons. In practice, if the chairman of this oversight committee is personally unconvinced of the merits of a request, the likelihood of it being funded is very low. I know of another good congregation where the preaching minister must sign-off on all mission funding.

As I have repeatedly said, God uses us in our frailty and in our ignorance. Much good work has been done, so please don’t misunderstand me when I suggest that there must be a better way!

Here are what I see as the basic weaknesses of our standard model for supporting missionaries:

1)      Mission work becomes the responsibility of a small number of people rather than of the whole body of Christ.

2)      Mission information rarely gets out of committee, so congregations are ill-informed and uninspired about their missionaries.

3)      With decisive power in the hands of a few, any change in personnel creates the potential for radical restructuring of that church’s mission strategy. Every new mission committee chairman brings a new agenda. New preachers and new elders often create the same instability.

4)       Centralized money creates centralized power! And power corrupts! Mission committees are notorious for establishing small fiefdoms. Because missions is central to the agenda of most congregations, those who control the funds for missions—elders, preacher, or committees—control that agenda!  Unfortunately, the more experienced they become and bigger the budget, the more indispensable they consider themselves and their own personal missions agenda—sometimes even to the detriment of the overall health of the congregation.

5)      Decisions about financial support are easier than decisions about spiritual needs, so the financial decisions direct our strategies for world missions.

6)      Financial decisions can be very far removed from relationships with those we are supporting.  Nothing good can come from the missionary becoming primarily an employee of the church.

I talked with a missionary once who reported his own conversation with a local preacher who, completely frustrated in a great church using a standard model, said he would just like to blow up the mission committee at his congregation!  Now why do you think he said that??

Twice during the Pepperdine Bible Lectures this year, I sat with great non-American missionaries who said that they were desperately trying to figure out how to survive if they gave up their American support.  Although both have been supported by some of our largest churches for many years, their experiences with our congregational power structure for funding missions had been bitter!  They talked of how often they were confronted and confounded with personal agendas, pettiness, over-control, micro-management—all power-mongering.  It broke my heart to hear them talk, but I could not offer any rebuttal.

My conclusion is that we need a model that separates power and money!  That is where we will go with the next few posts, so stay with me!


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I was at the Ballpark in Arlington last night for a Ranger game. You may have seen it on the news because a severe storm hit in the fourth inning, one that brought high winds, heavy rains, hail, and the threat of tornadoes!

About the second inning they asked all the fans in the upper deck to move to a vacant seat in the lower stands, so almost everyone in the ballpark tried to move to a better seat! The instructions for determining which seats were vacant and could you move into the seat by Nolan Ryan were very unclear, which caused obvious confusion.

A bit later, the officials cleared the lower stands, but with no explanation. Still later, I noticed lots of fans being taken down the stairs, through the dugouts into the tunnels under the stadium—not all of the fans, just some!  Not us!

My father-in-law and I moved from the second level down to the ground level on our own initiative. But during the most serious part of the storm, when some were going underground, we stood with thousands of others just looking around waiting for someone to tell us either that we were OK or that there was a safer place to which we should go.  No one ever told us anything!

We survived the storm just fine, but it did remind me that without intelligible guidance and a clear path to follow, most people will just stand around helplessly.  My goal in this series of posts on Rethinking Missions is to suggest a generally clear path that we as a fellowship could encourage hopeful missionaries to follow, with the goal of having more people go into all the world, making disciples and baptizing more people!

If you don’t mind, I want to just use this post to briefly summarize the whole area of First Decisions, which is where we are in the conversation!

The Desire to be a Missionary

The desire to be a missionary arises mostly from inspiration either through exposure to others who are missionaries or through personal experience with short-term missions. My suggestion is that the point of inspiration be moved from the Christian college, which is where the majority of opportunities now lie, to the local congregation.

Moving the point of inspiration to the local congregation has the following significant advantages:

  • Virtually everyone in our fellowship is part of a congregation, so the total number of people being exposed to missionary inspiration is exponentially greater!
  • The inspiration can begin younger and continue through elder years, again increasing the potential number of Hopefuls!
  • Hopeful Missionaries would already have a significant relationship with a congregation, which would make every future interaction easier.
  • Having known the local Hopeful as part of the congregation’s life will help in guiding them through a prayerful selection process.
  • The members of the local congregation will more likely support the Hopefuls from their own congregation, both financially and spiritually.

Even if a person is inspired somewhere else–on a vacation, or at a state university, or from a relative who has done a short-term mission–if the local congregation is the first stop in the selection process, this new Hopeful will have all of the advantages of the relationship to their congregation to build upon.

And if a person is a new Christian, the immediate, affectionate circle of a local church can close around them and provide good guidance and strong relationships for exploring their desire to be a missionary.

First Decisions

We have talked about three main First Decisions for any Hopeful Missionary:

  • which mission field,
  • what type of work, and
  • how should I prepare to go.

Let me suggest a how these stepping-stones to the mission field should line up.

1.            The first decision should probably be the mission field. Some of the beginning questions that a Hopeful should ask—and that the congregation should ask of the Hopeful–might be

  1. What country/city/region are you drawn towards? Why? (I would avoid the “called to” question because that is what the Hopeful is trying to determine with your guidance.)
  2. What do you know about these areas? (With some guidance, they should research the geography, the culture, and the religion.)
  3. What mission work is already being done there? (Both in and out of our fellowship. Again, they may need guidance to know where to find complete information.)
  4. What gifts do you have that will be appropriate for this site?
  5. What will be the greatest difficulties for you personally? For your work?

These kinds of questions will start a great conversation that could certainly lead to a “calling” to a specific site.

2.            The selection of a mission site probably will determine the strategy or type of work.  If the Hopeful is called to a third world country, then internet evangelism may not be a good strategy! If it is an industrialized country, a well-digging ministry would be equally inappropriate.

The strategy for communicating the gospel so that a particular people can hear it should come after a great deal of prayer, of consultation with current workers, after extensive research, and with much guidance.

3.            Then comes the plan for preparation for both the field and the type of work to which the Hopeful is called!  By the time, the Hopeful gets to this stage, a whole congregation has been inspiring and guiding them for a longer period of time, and much prayerful research and consultation has given the Hopeful a significant knowledge base. The plan for preparation should fill two or three significant gaps:

  • Some knowledge is better learned from teachers than on one’s own. This may include basic Bible knowledge, knowledge of God and how He works, cross-cultural information, leadership skills. With guidance, a Hopeful can know what areas he/she needs special preparation in.
  • Some skills may need to be learned:  language may be the most obvious of these, but there may be others: translation skills, musical skills, writing, teaching skills, conversation skills, etc.
  • Experience is often completely lacking!  An apprenticeship under a strong Master Missionary will fill the largest gap!

Preparation sometimes fills these three gaps simultaneously in an apprenticeship, but often a preparation plan needs to be outlined and scheduled sequentially.  The counselors, mentors, and guides gathered along the path can help the Hopeful with this part of the process.


What remains to be done is raising the necessary financial support. I have left most money questions untouched because I’m convinced that we have been guilty of letting the money questions control too much of the whole process.

Now that we have a path for the crucial First Decisions, we are in a better position to rethink the issue of supporting missions!

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